Dynamic Rescue of a Stranded Surfer Wins Muriwai VLS Top Prize

Friday, 18 December 2020

Press release

December 18, 2020

The Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service Emergency Call-Out Squad (ECOS) has been awarded bp Rescue of the Month for the winter period thanks to a dynamic rescue carried out this spring.

Shortly before 4pm on October 8th, the squad received notification that a distressed surfer was washed up on the rocks near Sugar Loaf Island between Muriwai and Maukatia (Maori) Bay.

ECOS Coordinator, Glenn Gowthorpe and volunteer Surf Lifeguard, Shea O’Neill, responded with their fins, tubes, helmets and wetsuits in-hand, while fellow squad member, Neil Reid, positioned himself on the Gannet Colony lookout platform above the rescue scene and established radio contact with the NZ Police Eagle Helicopter hovering above.

Murwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service President, Jo Cooper, says a 2½ meter swell “smashed” the rocks in front of the surfer, who’d managed to shimmy his way up the cliff edge and out of immediate danger.

Glenn and Shea jumped into the water and swam their way out to the stranded patient. They assessed the “relieved” surfer on arrival and reassured him that they’d would get him off the rocks as quickly as possible.

“The patient was very cold and reluctant to re-enter the raging surf, particularly on his surf board (which had gotten him into trouble in the first place),” says Cooper.

“Glenn and Shea discussed their options, factoring in swell and rip conditions, and decided to give the patient Shae’s rescue tube and fins for a swim exit through the cave to Maori Bay with Glenn, while Shae would paddle the patient’s surfboard and provide floatation assistance if required.”

Glenn briefed the patient and then timed the jump into the surf so that the next set would help with the swim into the Maori Bay cave.

The patient, being both scared and cold, initially assisted by kicking toward the cave, but quickly became fatigued and was concerned that the safety of the beach was still quite some way off,” says Cooper. With some verbal encouragement and solid swimming, Glenn and the patient eventually made it into the cave.

Once inside, however, the washing-machine action of the water, coupled with periods of total darkness, caused the patient to cling desperately to both his rescue tube and the lifeguards, while powerful swells pushed them back and forth. Through great effort, the trio eventually made headway toward the cave exit before a final large wave bowled them up over the rocky beach at the cave mouth at Maori Bay.

Relieved that that they were now on land, Shae checked the patient again before reuniting him with his surfboard. The trio then climbed up the hill to the carpark, where a large crowd had gathered. A few cheers rang out as the onlookers praised the efforts of the Surf Lifeguards in such difficult conditions.

The patient’s joy and at being rescued was obvious for all to see. He repeatedly thanked the Surf Lifeguards before also thanking the member of the public who had initially called ‘111’ when she saw him in trouble.

The lifeguards then thanked the Police Eagle Helicopter crew before they flew back to their Onehunga base.

“A key factor in the success of this rescue was the lifeguards’ familiarity with the conditions in the rescue area and the deliberate and on-going risk assessment that accompanied their evolving rescue plan,” says Cooper.

“The rescue process was backed up by great communication between the three Surf Lifeguards, with the Police Eagle helicopter operating overhead.”

“This was yet another successful rescue for the Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service ECOS, a skilled team of dedicated and capable lifeguards who willingly give up their time to rescue those in need along Muriwai’s challenging coast”.

bp NZ Managing Director, Debi Boffa, says bp is “incredibly proud” to have partnered with Surf Life Saving New Zealand since 1968.

“We are continually impressed by the incredible skills and bravery of Surf Lifeguards all over the country, and this rescue is another great example of the heroism they show in keeping us safe at the beach,” she says.

As the first-place winner of bp Rescue of the Month, Muriwai Volunteer Lifeguard Service will be recognised with $500-worth of bp gift vouchers.


If there are lifeguards on patrol, let them know. If you can’t see any lifeguards, CALL 111 & ASK FOR THE POLICE. They have a direct line to our emergency call-out squads across New Zealand and Coastguard NZ as well.



SLSNZ is the national association representing 74 surf lifesaving clubs with 18,000+ members, including more than 4,500 volunteer Surf Lifeguards. Our lifeguards patrol over 90 locations each summer and provide emergency call-out rescue services throughout Aotearoa, saving hundreds of lives each year and ensuring thousands return home safe after a day at the beach.

We do all this as a charity and rely on the generosity of the public, commercial partners, foundations and trusts for donations and financial contributions in order to lead and support our incredible front-line volunteer lifeguarding services.

For more information, please contact:

Mackenzie Koppel
Media and Communications Manager
Surf Life Saving NZ
021 757 433